S. Mitra Kalita was named the managing editor for editorial strategy at the Los Angeles Times last week. She is a 38-year-old Indian American journalist — born in Brooklyn, raised in the NYC area and Puerto Rico — who worked at the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and was executive editor of Quartz. Besides coming into a newsroom she doesn't know, she's overseeing editorial strategy in a city she doesn't know. Tough challenge.
Kalita did an email interview late last week about her new job that ran on the Huffington Post's India site. An excerpt:
Your thoughts on this exciting new role and what is your focus going to be at LAT?
"I'm really honoured to be joining the LA Times at this critical time in its history and that of our industry. There are few jobs in journalism that would make me uproot my family, leave a neighbourhood and friends I love, and exit an innovative startup like Quartz. I also think it's a testament to what we've built at Quartz and to the LA Times' forward thinking at this moment in time to say, "Hey, can you infuse our newsroom with some of that?" How can we better serve our readers and all the ways they consume news now? How can we attract new readers? How do we ensure our products, across platforms, are editorially excellent and commercially viable? These are tough questions but they also represent such an amazing opportunity for a diverse, newsy market like Los Angeles."
What is your advice for young journalists?
Learn the basics: grammar, the stylebook, story structure.
Become known for clean copy. It's much easier to break the rules (especially for digital) when you know them.
Eavesdrop on the reporters you want to be. How do they talk to sources? How do they pitch stories? How do they organize their days? Do they eat lunch at their desks or go out with sources every day?
Live a life and engage with the world. You should never have a quiet cab ride.
And also: Kalita was interviewed today by Capital New York and revealed her thoughts on moving (back) to a newspaper newsroom from the digital world, and to Los Angeles from a community she loves in Jackson Heights, Queens. Sample:
CAPITAL: Why the L.A. Times? What appealed to you about this opportunity?
KALITA: The L.A. Times is one of the country's greatest media institutions. It has weathered many storms over the last few years and still managed to commit amazing journalism and attract a large, steady audience. When editor Davan Maharaj approached me, I liked that he stressed this was NOT a digital job, but one that sought to infuse the newsroom and the organization with new ideas, products and readerships. Digital happens to be the future of the L.A. Times (and pretty much every other company on the planet), but my conversations with journalists there really have been about ideas and storytelling. I'd say our future rests more on the strength of that than an overt digital strategy somehow divorced from the news of the day…
CAPITAL: What does the Times need to do differently to keep pace, online, with a place like Quartz? How can the Times reinvent itself, or does it even need to?
KALITA: I've given a lot of thought to this question, but am really reserving judgment until I am in the newsroom and better understand the place. But this idea that legacy media institutions have to "keep up" with the spate of media startups intrigues me. From my perch, I look at the L.A. Times brand and traffic and actually feel jealous. You mean you have readers who turn to you every day to understand the news and what is going on? At Quartz, every day, every story is a fight for audience. So what the L.A. Times already has is pretty powerful. I think the questions now to ask are: How can we better serve our readers and all the ways they consume news now? How can we attract new readers? How do we ensure our products, across platforms, are editorially excellent and commercially viable?
CAPITAL: Will it be tough to leave New York for L.A.? Or have you tired of our cold winters and crowded subways?
KALITA: I live in Jackson Heights, Queens—probably the closest thing to a commune that New York has. There are always hungry kids, dogs, grownups in and out of my house. I've convinced countless families to buy here, the closer to my house the better. We babysit each other's kids or stick them in the basement and drink wine and dance and pretend they don't exist. My elderly neighbor cooks for me and I for her; she yells at me when I travel too much and tells me to be nicer to my husband. I really almost turned down the L.A. job because I will miss all this so.
And yet we're in this critical moment in our industry and L.A. felt like a chance to try a lot of new things, apply what I know and soak up a lot I don't, continue to commit excellent journalism, and, yes, get out of the cold.